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Harriet Mattfeld hailed as a ‘community champion’: Perham councilwoman dies Monday, March 13

Known as a community champion, Harriet Mattfeld, 83, of Perham, died Monday, March 13, at Perham Living, where she had lived since last spring.

In April 2016, she suffered a stroke that limited her physical capabilities, but didn’t diminish her passion for Perham. She continued to attend city council meetings more often than not. On Friday, March 3, she suffered what family described as a “major stroke,” that led to her death.

Visitation is planned from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, at Schoeneberger Funeral Home in Perham. A funeral service is planned at 11 a.m. Thursday, March 16, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Perham, with visitation one hour prior to the service. Burial will be in the church cemetery.

Over the years, Harriet had worn many hats -- wife, mother, grandmother, office manager, newspaper proofreader and city council member.

But perhaps the hat that she enjoyed and wore most often was that of community cheerleader.

“She was certainly dedicated to the community,” said Kevin Kyle, former Perham mayor. “She always wanted what was best for the community. Kyle served with Harriet on the council for four years, then worked with her during the three years he was mayor.

She always had the best interests of Perham residents in mind when making decisions, said former city manager Kelcey Klemm, who worked with Harriet the eight years he served the city.

“She was always a defender for doing what’s right for all the residents of Perham,” he said. “She always had that outlook on issues. If she didn’t think something was best for the residents, she was vocal about it.”

Perham Mayor Timothy Meehl found out how vocal she could be when her opinion differed, he said. They had opposing views on a proposed quiet zone that would cut down on train noise as they traveled through the city. Even with enhanced safety measures at the intersections, Harriet was opposed to the idea.

The two normally “got along pretty well,” Meehl said, but when the topic came up at a city officials conference, Harriet wasn’t about to let him tell just one side of the story.

“Harriet stood up and spoke out against it,” he said. “It got a little heated right there, but it turned out well.”

Though she was normally quiet during council meetings, if she was against something, she voiced her opinion, he said.

“She’s going to be missed, that’s for sure,” Meehl said.

In 2002, Harriet decided to run for a position on the city council and has been elected to serve two-year terms ever since. Her present term expires in 2018. All indications were that she would run again, according to several people who knew her.

As recently as her birthday in mid-January, Meehl heard her say she didn’t plan to step down from the council when asked by family members.

“I can’t step down,” she responded in typical Harriet style. “I’ve got to keep these guys (the other council member) in line.”

“She did not want to retire,” said her daughter, Paula Helms of Perham, adding council members helped her continue in her public role.

“The city council has been there, every step of the way,” Helms said, “getting her to meetings to allow her to stay productive on the council.”

Prior to working on the council, Harriet was the office manager for the Perham Focus, a community newspaper, then known as the Perham Enterprise Bulletin. She started at the newspaper in 1963, as a typesetter with owner Harvey Smalley Jr., and she was still there when Mike Parta bought the paper in 1978, Parta said.

“Harriet was the office manager,” he said while on vacation in Maui. “She kept things running up front. It would have been much more difficult for me without her, that’s for sure. She was very dedicated to the paper and Perham.”

He wasn’t surprised when she ran for a council seat, because she had spent 20 or 30 years proofreading (reporter) Chuck Johnson’s council stories, he said.

Beyond the work relationship, Parta said she was also a “dear friend. We had a lot of good conversations.”

In her personal life, Harriet kept busy with a number of volunteer opportunities and was known for her artist endeavors, according to Helms, who recalled the oil paintings and drawings she did for people.

But perhaps her greatest gift was her love of giving to others.

“She loved to ‘pay it forward,’” Helms said. “She would anonymously send money to people who needed it. She loved to do things for people who didn’t have much.”

Former newspaper reporter Chuck Johnson, who is presently the city’s economic development director, worked with Harriet in both capacities and considers the two friends.

“Harriet has always been extremely generous with herself and her time,” Johnson said. “If she heard of somebody who was down on their luck, she always stepped forward to help.”

She was almost the first person Johnson met when he applied for a writing position with the Enterprise Bulletin and the two worked together at the newspaper for 21 years, forming a lasting bond.

“She was my guardian angel,” he said. “She proofread all my stories and kept me out of a lot of trouble.”

Her retirement send-off from the newspaper after 33 years -- a year or two before Johnson left the business, he said -- was more emotional for him than his own retirement.

“When she retired, that was tough,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of fun.”

When Johnson left the Enterprise Bulletin, he was hired as the EDA director, a position he’s held for more than a decade. Harriet had served on the EDA committee almost since she was elected to the council, he said, adding, “and she was still catching my mistakes.”

Because of her work in the community and on the city council, Harriet had recently been nominated for the Chamber Choice Volunteer award. But she had earned many awards through her work with the Perham Lions when she served as secretary of the club.

Whatever Harriet did, she was informed and she was a leader, said Parta.

“She wasn’t in the background,” he said. “She was on point more often than not.”

Kyle echoed similar sentiments.

“She was one of those people who once they heard all the information on an issue, made sound decisions,” he said. “She was a good community supporter.”